Monday, November 06, 2006

Oh, The Humanity

Canada does sometimes churn out right-wing loons who somehow make a dent in international commentary. Mark Steyn is one, a columnist for Canada's Maclean's magazine and for a variety of other publications in the US and in Britain.

Steyn has a new book out, which Maclean's was willing to give a cover over to. The description for America Alone on Amazon says, "In this, his first major book, Mark Steyn--probably the most widely read, and wittiest, columnist in the English-speaking world--takes on the great poison of the twenty-first century: the anti-Americanism that fuels both Old Europe and radical Islam. America, Steyn argues, will have to stand alone. The world will be divided between America and the rest; and for our sake America had better win."

I'm not going to read the book; therefore, I'm not going to comment on the book. Yeah, I sometimes read Steyn's column in Maclean's (a magazine which has lately descended into a dismal mix of right-wing nagging and over-excited star gawking), but only because it's that or People on a 15 minute break at work. And the People articles are too in-depth for 15 minutes.

One column of Steyn's I did happen to read was this one, where he goes on about the apparent tragedy of Heather Reisman deciding not to carry his book. For those of you not familiar with the Canadian book biz, Reisman is the owner of the Chapter's/Indigo chain, Canada's equivalent to Borders or B&N.

Now, I say Reisman made this decision only because Steyn says it. Steyn's evidence for this is that Reisman "is famous for ostentatiously announcing the simultaneous banning from all her chains of Mein Kampf." Not that she actually, you know, announced that her stores wouldn't stock Steyn's book. But because one happened, it is apparent to Steyn that the other must follow.

I find it interesting here to see that Steyn has somehow compared his book to Mein Kampf. He surely didn't intend this, and even tosses off what he thinks is a clever little joke about the Arabic edition of that book being a best-seller in the Middle East. But the joke doesn't do much of anything to cover this rather funnier comparison. Indeed, what could have been a way to capture our sympathy (Look! My book has been banned!) is instead an eyeroll-inducing moment of surprising ineptitude (Look! Hitler's been treated poorly, and so have I!).

But did he really not intend this? Brown people are a bit of an issue with Steyn, almost as nasty as liberals. Brown people who are Islamic are, of course, the most suspect.

Let's stretch the connection a little more: Steyn's book is published by that hotbed of progressive thinking, Regnery Publishing. Not familiar with Regnery? They made a name for themselves a couple of years ago by publishing the book that so famously "swift boated" John Kerry during the '04 Presidential race in the US. William Regnery II is also well-known for supporting racist causes.

Regnery is also not a large publisher - if they'd not had the swift boat book get a boost from all the right wing cranks in the US media, I doubt they'd even know what a bestseller looks like today - and they don't have an extensive distribution system. Checking their site, I don't see any sign of Canadian distribution, which means that any orders Canadian stores wish to place likely have to go through either Regnery or else through an American distributor like Baker and Taylor, both of which are a pain in the ass.

Steyn is proud that this is his first major book, although he has had previous collections out. I guess moving from Stockade Books to Regnery is a bit of a jump in his eyes, although it surprises me that someone who's been catching so much attention lately would go with Regnery rather than a bigger publisher, say one owned by Fox's Rupert Murdoch, like HarperCollins, since they have a solid distribution system.

I have no access to the sales numbers for Steyn's previous books, but a part of me wonders if perhaps they were a little bit - let me cast about for an appropriate word here - crappy. Sure, they're high now; Amazon shows that there's spillover from his new book. But it's always possible that he wasn't that big a seller in his previous incarnation. In which case, it makes sense that a real publisher wouldn't take a flyer on him, or that a book chain wouldn't be interested in carrying his book. I take a moment here to note that something similar has just happened to my
friend Peter Watts (scroll down to "The Scoop on Distribution").

All of this can be seen as almost encouraging for writers. Hey, I can get back on that horse and sell books again! But then, perhaps, the writer will view things and wonder just how bad he has to prostitute himself, how ugly and nasty he has to be to get people to buy his books. And suddenly it all deflates.

In the end, Steyn's column reads as little more than whining combined with nyah-nyah in-your -face BS. They won't carry my book! Waah! But I still sell lots of copies of my book! So there! It's frustrating to see a national news magazine that used to (and yeah, sometimes still) do serious reporting carry such a self-serving puff piece. It's designed to do nothing but get a few digs in at a business person Steyn has an apparent dislike for (Reisman and her husband only recently switched from supporting the Liberals for the Conservatives, based strictly on PM Harper's support for Israel), to sell books, and to puff up his self-importance.

This last is most evident at the end of the column, starting with his brag that he's already a Canadian best seller, and followed by his comment that he "could be the first Canadian author to win the Governor General's Award without ever selling a copy in a Canadian bookstore."

Or, more likely, he won't be considered for the G-G. Or for the Giller, or for any other Canadian lit prize of any importance. Maybe he'll get lucky and find a certificate of praise in his next package of Crackerjacks.

Friday, November 03, 2006


So last night after going to bed, Jo realized that the desktop computer had been left on. I offered to go shut it off, and so headed down to the office, which is in the basement beside Aidan's bedroom. It's dark down there, darker than our last house, so we have a nightlight in the hallway. I was successful navigating my way there and shutting off the computer, but then, instead of turning on the hall light to help me back out, I figured it was all good, forgetting of course that I had just had the office light on and that therefore the nightlight wasn't going to do me a lick of good.

I walked straight into the door, edge-on.

From there I staggered to the stairs, hands over my face, yelling for Jo as I collapsed. The moisture in my hands that I initially thought was tears turned out to be, when I removed my hands in the washroom, blood. Lots of it, pouring from my forehead and really pouring from the bridge of my nose.

I'll post a picture if I can find the cord, which has gone missing in the move. In the meantime, I have a bandage on the nose now, and I expect I'm going to have a permanent scar. I'll tell people I cut myself shaving.

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